Crime and Punishment

The Less Exquisite Side of the Art World

04.17.13 3:45 PM ET

It's amazing how a life spent buying and selling works of art tends to bring out the very worst in people. The Nahmad family are well known in the art world.

Over the years the family has amassed an estimated 300 Picassos worth $900 million, and about 4,500 other works by artists including Monet and Miró, many secreted in a duty-free warehouse near the Geneva airport. It is a treasure that Forbes estimated to be worth over $3 billion. Before this week, Hillel Nahmad’s gallery was a cynosure of refinement and wealth, with masters like Wassily Kandinsky and Francis Bacon on the walls.

But now this:

[O]n Tuesday, the family’s New York flagship gallery, the Helly Nahmad Gallery, at the opulent Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan, was filled with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducting a raid.

An indictment unsealed on Tuesday charged its owner, Hillel Nahmad, 34, with playing a leading role in a far-flung gambling and money-laundering operation that stretched from Kiev and Moscow to Los Angeles and New York.

The case features a wide cast of characters, including a man described as a Russian gangster accused of trying to rig Winter Olympic skating competitions in Salt Lake City and a woman who once organized high-stakes poker games for some of Hollywood’s most famous faces.

In all, 34 people were charged on Tuesday with playing a part in what federal prosecutors described as two separate but interconnected criminal groups — one operating overseas and the other in the United States. Together, they are accused of laundering more than $100 million in gambling money.